The stage is set, awaiting the actors to take their places. But there is no audience. The seats are empty.
At the Guelph Little Theatre (GLT), however, the show will still go on, virtually.
GLT is about to celebrate its 85th season and is back after the COVID-19 pandemic hit with online performances beginning this month.
“We are just so happy to get the theatre up and running. It’s about performing and it’s about community,” says Lynne McIntee, publicity chair at GLT.
And the first performance will feature conversations.
Local author Marion Reidel has partnered with GLT and later this month four vignettes from her book Café Conversations will be filmed at the theatre and available to the public on-line shortly after.
“I read the book," says Judith Eden, acting GLT vice-president and props and paints chair. “And I thought that performing some vignettes from the book would be a great idea. We went for it and now, I’m the producer.”
For Eden, Café Conversations is great start in keeping theatre and community relationships going during the pandemic.
And what better way, than through a virtual performance.
“Life is like a synergy of creative connections,” says Reidel, in this, her second short story collection.
“The short stories take place in a café. There’s a group of older ladies, there’s business meetings, and conversations about marriage. It’s so exciting to see this all come to life. I’ve seen these characters in my head, so it’s so exciting for me,” Reidel said.
During filming, actors will be physically distanced with everyone spaced safely.
“All of the volunteers, all hands are in place for this project, including set design and costuming,” Reidel says.
Since 1935, GLT has earned a reputation for producing top quality performances, both artistically and technically including dramas, comedies and musicals. GLT has won many awards at both the Western Ontario Drama League and Theatre Ontario Festivals.
“It’s been 85 years and all run by volunteers which is truly amazing. It’s ‘people power’ and that needs to be celebrated. It’s about including everyone and celebrating everyone,” McIntee said.
“Because of the pandemic, it’s a sad time for many people right now, but if anything, I’ve seen the shining light and this has been the drive in the community. This is the heartbeat of the community and of Guelph Little Theatre. It’s poignant right now to be able to keep the ship afloat.”
For McIntee, it’s about drawing people in and being inclusive.
In September, GLT will also partner with Manuel Garcia, known as Manu, a puppeteer who tells stories through puppets and music.
With the theme ‘Exploring the World through Unity and Inclusion’, Manu invites children and parents to engage in his fantasy world of puppets in a variety of activities which will include storytelling, music, reading and crafts.
“This is a perfect opportunity for me,” says Garcia. “Kids need to be engaged and for me, I want to entertain.”
“I use puppets, songs and games. I try to educate kids through entertainment, to learn in a fun way. It’s play-based learning and it’s interactive for kids and parents. It’s important to remind people how to play traditionally, to bring back all of those traditional games.”
Garcia has lived in Guelph for five years. Coming from Mexico, he brought his love of the magical world of puppetry and children with him.
“And when it comes to inclusion, instead of telling kids not to be racist, they learn through the puppets. The kids can show and tell the puppets what not to do. These are fantasy characters, but kids welcome them and accept them, no matter how different,” Garcia says.
“And I add singing as well. We live in such a multicultural society. With puppets and music, this is the link. This makes relationships.”
All performances will be available virtually on the GLT Facebook page and on YouTube.
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, GLT had no choice but to close its doors. Two productions were ready to hit the stage including Swordfish written by local playwright Tom Reidel and the comedy Romeo and Rosaline, by Andrew Batten.
“The set is all ready for Swordfish. These shows are on hold, but the set is ready for when we re-open. We don’t know what that will look like but it’s ready to go. And in the meantime, we’ll just have to do other things,” McIntee said.
As for celebrating GLT’s 85th season, planning is underway.
“It might be outside. We aren’t quite sure, but we just want people to know that we are still here. The more we include, the better we all are in unity, inclusion and with people from all walks of life. This is the heartbeat of our community,” McIntee says.
“There is a place for us in the history of our community and this has to be celebrated.”